Student Renters Advised to Use "Couch Caution"

August 12, 2011

Special Concern for Upholstered Furniture on Porches

Renters on the move this weekend might want to reconsider their use of couches on front porches. Upholstered furniture used outdoors is especially susceptible to fires.

During the weeks surrounding move-in and move-out day, firefighters often receive calls for fires in upholstered furniture left at the curb for pick-up. But the real danger is with upholstered furniture on porches.

Last year, the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan passed a "couch ban" following a fire involving a couch, trash and other combustibles on the front porch that claimed the life of a student at Eastern Michigan University. Madison had its own example in 2007, when 23-year-old Peter Talen died in off-campus housing on N. Bedford street. The fire started in a couch on the front porch of the house.

Ann Arbor officials said the ordinance was not an attempt to stop occupants from using the exteriors of property, especially the porches, but that appropriate outdoor furniture should be used.

Upholstered furniture is more of a risk outside than it is inside because of the unlimited supply of oxygen and breezes that can fan flames, and a lack of devices and people outside to detect the fires when they start.

The synthetic materials used in many couches also tend to burn faster and give off more toxic gases.

While the Department is not currently advocating for an ordinance similar to the ban in Ann Arbor, the trend of couch fires is being watched closely to determine the extent of the problem in the City.

In the meantime, the Department reminds residents:

• Do a home inspection sweep of your house or apartment before and after parties.
• Check to make sure all smoke alarms are in good working condition.
• Keep a clear path to all exits to facilitate easy evacuation in case of an emergency
• If there will be smoking on the property, provide non-combustible containers, preferably with water to discard and douse any cigarettes.
• Finally, resist the urge to grab a bargain that someone else has set out for the trash. Bedbugs are a concern for furniture that has been left outside.

Contact:
  • Lori Wirth, (608) 266-5947